Some of the World’s Wackiest Tasting Notes

Rachael Tyrrell from Burt Greener Communications, Edinburgh did some work on a light-hearted Whisky Day campaign for Glen Moray.

We use hundreds of words to describe the taste of Whisky, from the basic to the truly weird and wonderful! Notes of cardboard and wood shavings with a whiff of wet leather…do these far-out descriptions help or hinder our enjoyment of a dram? 

Here is Rachael’s great wee article.

Dead Guillemot, Fabric Plasters and Blackened Engine Grease?

Glen Moray unveils the whisky world’s wackiest tasting notes ahead of World Whisky Day and asks if it’s time for change?

We use hundreds of words to describe the taste of whisky, from the basic to the truly weird and wonderful! To tie in with World Whisky Day this weekend (Sunday 22nd May), Glen Moray asked the experts to reveal the strangest tasting notes they’ve encountered and suggest some modern alternatives to make life easier for newcomers and accessible to all.

Leading whisky writers, including Dave Broom, Henry Jeffries, Jim Coleman, Ian Wisniewski, Mark Gillespie, Brian Townsend and Philip Day all rose to the challenge and revealed their funniest findings, pet peeves and guilty pleasures when it comes to ‘interesting’ whisky lingo. As Henry Jeffries confessed:

“My bete noir for tasting notes, and I’m as guilty as anyone, is being unnecessarily specific, for example saying Conference pear, rather than just pear, Manuka honey rather than just honey, wild strawberries and Columbian Coffee. I think they are used to give a false sense of exactness. 

But, that’s not to say that tasting notes have to be a plain. I love silly comparisons. My favourite ever tasting though, comes from wine and it is ‘sturdier than Robert Mitchum’s trousers press’. Beat that!” 

Jim Coleman revealed one tasting note that has stuck with him is ‘tastes like the left wing of a dead seagull on an Islay beach’ whilst whisky aficionado Dave Broom also has a soft spot for an avian analogy, siting Charlie MacLean’s taste of ‘dead guillemot’ as his firm favourite. 

From hints of paint thinner, motor grease, and Cullen Skink, to notes of rotting fish, beeswax, and Germoline, Glen Moray’s findings reveal that whisky lingo is indeed an acquired taste. Below are some favourites that the experts and Glen Moray fans have flagged:

Tastes like

  • Pork scratchings dusted with paprika 
  • Dirt
  • Damp cardboard
  • Spicy cigarette ash
  • A touch of the tack room
  • Roofing tar
  • Plankton
  • Driftwood campfire smoke – a tasting note that is not altogether unusual, however as Whisky Cast’s Mark Gillespie points out, one he has caught holy hell for from his family over the years who always want to know “when were you ever around a driftwood campfire on a beach?”

On the nose, with a hint of

  • Sileage
  • Wet Labrador
  • Toilet Duck
  • A wet worsted blanket
  • Damp autumnal hay
  • Scented candle (but which scent?)

In a word…

  • Grungy
  • Masculine
  • Flaccid
  • Inoffensive
  • Gullet-warming

And the best of the rest when it comes to descriptions:

  • ‘Like a young cricket bowler joining the senior squad too young: some of the delivery is wayward but the power, energy and enthusiasm is there in abundance.’
  • ‘Like a liquidised Tunnock’s Caramel Log in a glass’
  • ‘It’s a sit back with a cigar and show off your cufflinks kind of dram’

Dave Brooms explains: “Our sense of smell is an internalised sense and therefore the most personal. That means we all have different memories and triggers when we smell something. It depends on your background, where you live, what you eat, when you first encounter an aroma. No surprise then that you get some wild descriptors – but they are the right ones for you.

The key is to know what they mean. If I smell a clean rabbit hutch/hamster cage I know I’m smelling a malty whisky …You might smell biscuits, or dusty attics … or a dead mouse…

It hinders enjoyment if you don’t allow people to relax and allow their memories to come out.”

One thing many of the experts agree on however, is that it may be time to give whisky a bit of an update by being more alive to the aromas around us and using descriptors and terms that are universally understood. 

Scents of Nandos, CBD oil, candy floss, Oreo, cookie dough and peanut butter are just some of the suggestions provided in addition to considering describing mouthfeel more often, think creamy, silky, velvety, oily, juicy and delicate.

And when it comes to Scottish Whisky, Dave Broom would like to see the following used as often as possible: the Gaelic word ‘sgrìob’ which describes the itchiness of the lip when a dram is required and ‘It’s Hoorish strong/ A-hoora strong’ (used as a warning to people who are about to neck a cask-strength dram).

Cheers from The Whisky Boys and enjoy your drams!

Photos are courtesy of BraveStaves who specialise in re-crafting retired whisky staves into whisky flight boards, guitar hooks, key hooks, coasters and bottle openers.

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